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Darren Clarke cleans up lifestyle to help his golf

He was headed back to Britain, leaner if not necessarily meaner, two tournaments under his much smaller belt, one encouraging, the other less so.

Darren Clarke's great start to the golfing year, third place in the PGA Tour opener, the Mercedes, was hardly matched by his play in last week's Sony Open. In two rounds, he shot even-par 140, the same score as the 'wunderkind', 14-year-old amateur Michelle Wie , and suffered the same fate, missing the cut by a shot.

So the man from Northern Ireland flew home, for a few hours at least. Then it was back on a jet once more, for work on a course under construction in South Africa and then a holiday in the Seychelles.

A man once known for the cigars he puffed and the beer he guzzled, Clarke has altered his lifestyle and his wardrobe, shedding inches on his waistline which forced him to replace a wardrobe of some 200 shirts and 100 pairs of trousers.

Instead of going to the pub, Clarke has been going to the gym. He has lost 30lbs and, at 35, is feeling as young as tomorrow.

"Two years ago," Clarke explained, "I had a terrible year. I played very poorly, underperformed. Although last season was a lot better, I'm trying to improve even more.

"I don't want to get to the situation in my career where I'm 42 or 43 and think I could have been a bit fitter and done things a bit better when I was younger."

Clarke did win the WGC American Express Championship last year at Akron. And he did have a fine first round in the Masters, a six-under 66, before falling apart with three rounds in the high or mid-70s.

"If I had been a little fitter," he said of Augusta where rain necessitated golfers playing 27 to 36 holes on the second day, "I might have finished off a little better than I did. And, though I didn't start then, that was the first time I thought about doing something. I began in September."

In the health club of the Ritz-Carlton hotel at Kapalua, Hawaii, where he stayed for the Mercedes, Clarke could be seen in the morning wearing boxing gloves and taking swings at a trainer who was fending off the blows with large protective pads. Tiger Woods, for one, was delighted.

A close friend, Woods also had been a pupil of Butch Harmon, who remains Clarke's golf teacher. In 2000, Clarke whipped Woods five & four in the 36-hole final of the WGC Matchplay.

"He had a tough time," Woods recalled. "He beat me pretty easily in the final, but he was really tired. I said, 'Darren, you beat the crap out of me that day, but you shouldn't be that tired.' With his schedule, playing in Europe and the States, he's going to run out of energy."

Woods said most people make the mistake of simply losing weight. "Darren is doing it the proper way," he said. "He's doing it through nutrition as well as exercise. I saw him working with his trainer. He was working pretty hard. It's good to see."

Clarke had his wife, Heather, and children, Tyrone, 5, and Conor, 3, at both Hawaiian events. He said he was away from them too often last year and, because he plans to play at least 16 events on the PGA Tour, he is renting a house in Florida with the possibility of purchasing.

Clarke, who lives outside London, will return to England this weekend, then fly to South Africa to visit Pinnacle Point, the course he is designing. After a day he will join his family in the Syechelles, return home for three days, connect with Harmon in Las Vegas, do some club testing for TaylorMade at Carlsbad, California, and then return to competition at the Buick in San Diego.

"I've had a reasonable career to date," said Clarke, who has won the two WGC events in America and 11 tournaments on the European Tour. The whole thing is to try to improve, give myself a better chance of winning majors. No beer, no nicotine."

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